Imprisoned U.S. Army Private Chelsea Manning has asked a military appeals court to reverse her 2013 conviction or reduce her 35-year sentence for sending mountains of classified information to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks while serving as an intelligence analyst in Iraq, according to a court document released Thursday.
Manning's civilian attorney Vincent Ward said the 28-year-old transgender soldier was deprived of a fair court-martial because overzealous prosecutors confused the judge in their unsuccessful effort to convict Manning of aiding the enemy.
"I think that that's apparent from some of the judge's rulings in the way that she interpreted the law on all of these legal issues," Ward said in a telephone interview.
Manning, formerly Bradley Manning, was convicted of six Espionage Act violations and 14 other offenses for leaking more than 700,000 secret military and State Department documents, plus some battlefield video. She is imprisoned at the Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
Lt. Col. Jennifer Johnson, an Army spokeswoman at the Pentagon, declined to comment on the substance of the appeal.
"As legal action is ongoing, we continue to maintain careful respect for the military-judicial process, the rights of the accused, and ensuring the case's fairness and impartiality," she wrote in an email.
A 209-page, unclassified version of the appeal was released a day after the documents were filed with the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. It calls Manning's sentence "grossly unfair" and says her actions were those of a naive, troubled soldier who aimed to reveal the toll of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The appeal says Manning's disclosures harmed no one. At Manning's trial, prosecutors said the leaked material damaged U.S. security and put people's lives at risk by identifying informants who had helped U.S. forces.
The request for a reversal of charges is based on the harsh conditions Manning endured during nine months in a Marine Corps brig in Quantico, Virginia. The trial judge, Col. Denise Lind, ruled it illegal pretrial punishment and subtracted 112 days from Manning's sentence as compensation.
The appeal says Lind did not fully credit Manning "for the deplorable and inhumane conditions, which were tantamount to solitary confinement."
The appeal notes that Manning pleaded guilty to lesser offenses that could have brought up to 20 years behind bars, yet the government chose to pursue the original, more serious charges. If the charges aren't reversed, the court should reduce Manning's confinement to 10 years, as Manning's defense team recommended, the document says.
The document also challenges the constitutionality of the Espionage Act. A supporting document filed by the American Civil Liberties Union expands on those arguments, calling the act a "statute that allows the government to subject speakers and messages it dislikes to discriminatory prosecution."
Michael Navarre, a former active-duty Navy lawyer now in private practice in Washington, said Manning's lawyers face a high hurdle in trying to persuade the court to reverse all charges as a remedy for unlawful pretrial punishment. They would have to show that Lind's decision was based on a clearly erroneous view of the facts or an incorrect interpretation of the law, he said.
Navarre chuckled at the document's assertion that Lind made errors because she was confused by overzealous prosecutors.
"I don't think it's likely any court of criminal appeals will reverse a case because an Army colonel was bullied by the prosecutors," he said.